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Why the US Coast Guard has a new boating safety app

The new USCG boating app offers a variety of features, including reporting a hazard, pollution or suspicious activity on the water. It also includes a float plan tool and access to NOAA buoy weather data. 

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The father of a murdered US Coast Guard auxiliarist is honoring his son by funding the Coast Guard’s first-ever public boater safety and emergency call app.

The Coast Guard is well known for its rescues, but this is the first time the organization has attempted to navigate virtual waters and create a community-based app for preventive boater safety.

“This is still kind of the wild west for us as we navigate personal privacy protections and app development,” says Lt. Anastacia Visneski, who developed the app, says in an interview. "It's a very costly and time consuming undertaking for us. Fortunately we had Mr. Luis Romero funding this project."

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Lieutenant Visnesk explains that the story behind the app’s origin is a sad one.

“Mr. Louis Romero out of Puerto Rico, drove this app. His son was an auxiliarist (Julian Romero, 20) who died and in order to honor his memory he reached out to the Coast Guard to create this app,” says Visneski.

Julian Romero had completed a year at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy with the hope of one day becoming an active duty Coast Guardsman,

However, homesick for his native Puerto Rico, Mr. Romero transferred to study at InterAmerican University, and planned to join the active duty Coast Guard while trying to become a lawyer.

On April 18, 2011, the family celebrated their son’s 20th birthday at their home in the Old San Juan area of Puerto Rico. Afterward he and his girlfriend went for a walk and were robbed of his cellphone at knifepoint. He died of a punctured lung while attempting to defend his girlfriend from assault during the robbery, according to a USCG release.

“Mr. Romero then developed the app “Basta ya” – Spanish for ‘Stop it,’” Visneski explains.

The app allows civilians to report crime. “Since its release, the app has been downloaded more than 47,000 times and has been used to send 6,800 tips, including anonymously,” the release states.

“Because he wanted  to take it a step further because his son had been so passionate about the Coast Guard and our mission he reached out to us and asked about building off the Basta Ya base focusing on boating safety because his son was in auxiliary and did a lot of boating safety work,” Visneski says.

“In the Coast Guard, Julian found a great family,” said Luis. “That same family was very good to us. When our son died they came to our help, and we came together to get through it as a family.”

The free app was released during Safe Boating Week (May 16-22) and quickly rose to the top 10 safety downloads on the Google Play website, with over 22,000 downloads, according to Visneski.

While there are other boating apps, this new USCG app takes a Swiss-Army knife approach, including a variety of individual features found on other apps, including Float Plan sharing, NOAA buoy weather data, and boat safety gear. 

The USCG mobile app users can also become a part of the community by reporting: a hazard, pollution or suspicious activity and e-mail in images to the USCG and other reporting agencies.

“We’ve had some amazing success with the reporting feature, particularly hazard reporting,”  Visneski says. “In one case a person saw a submerged vessel that was blocking their way and sent the report and they sent in a picture, their latitude, longitude of where they were and a photo. That kind of reporting is very valuable. For our teams going out that’s awesome.”

App users are also able to File a float plan, a habit the USCG is hoping this app will encourage more boaters and fishermen to get into the habit of doing. A float plan details the planned route with ETA, describes the boat, gives a passenger list, and a checklist of what safety gear, food and water are aboard. These details assist the Coast Guard in risk assessment and location of a boater in trouble.

The app then gives the user the option of sending the plan, not to the Coast Guard, but to trusted friends or relatives who will then have all the information necessary to help the USCG locate those in danger should the situation arise.

The app also allows boaters to find the latest safety regulations, request a vessel safety check, check safety equipment, learn Navigation Rules, Find the nearest NOAA buoy and request emergency assistance which is aided by the user’s phone GPS tracking system, much like an EPIRB.

The app is available in iOS in the iTunes and for Android via the Google Play Store as a free download.

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